A trio of German vets offers new long-players to the decidedly singles-oriented techno world.
Let's be honest: The album format has not been overly kind to techno. Tracks experienced in the happy haze of club life aren't usually listened to in pre-set chronological order in the comforts of home. The closest you come to recapturing the good times of the night before is to pop in a mix CD by one of your favorite DJs. Even then, it doesn't come close to matching the extra-sensory "wow!" factor of dancing in a room full of people, immersed in pulsating rhythm and sound. There are exceptions to the rule, but more artists need to figure out how to have it both ways, sustaining the 4/4 thrill on full-length recordings as they would in a club setting. Three veteran German producer/DJs—Ellen Allien, Marcel Dettmann, and Martin Buttrich—attempt to bridge this nagging live sound vs. studio sound gap on their new releases.
Of the three, Allien got started first on this quest, with Statkind (2001) and Berlinette (2003), two long-players that began to showcase her multiple approaches to song-based techno, then later on Thrills (2005) and Sool (2008). Dust, Allien's fifth LP of her own productions, contains less of the industrial and glitchy underpinnings of her earlier work, instead crafting a cycle of tracks that features more of her love of indie rock and quirky electro-disco styles. "Flashy Flashy" uses heavily processed voices, acid synth lines, and a catchy, childlike melody ("rolling between bodies and sounds") that comments on the club experience she knows so well; "Sun the Rain" is straight-up jangly guitar pop with Allien's breathy vocals riding shotgun; "Ever" is an infectiously bouncy romp that few, even hardened cynics, will resist; and "Schlumi" finds a funky, psychedelic groove and stays there, thanks to a ripping bassline and hard-charging drum patterns.
If hard-charging is your cup of tea, you'll find it on Marcel Dettmann's debut LP. Sort of. Best known as a resident at Berlin's Berghain club, Dettmann is strongest when he strips his tracks down to pure texture in motion, like on the skeletal "Argon" and the crackly "Reticle." He turns it up a notch or two on "Motive," "Irritant," and "Screen," which all recall the feral minimal beauty of Basic Channel/Chain Reaction artists like Scion and T++. But for all its virtues, Dettmann's talent appears constrained by the limitations of originality itself, as if it's begging to be set free to endlessly toy with tracks made by other producers.
Surprisingly, the best of the bunch might be the first-ever full-length by the low-key Buttrich, who's been quietly producing and performing in near-obscurity since the early 1990s. That's not to say he's done it without reward. Buttrich has remixed Tori Amos, released his original productions on Cocoon, Planet E, and Poker Flat, and launched the Desolat label with Loco Dice in 2007. Crash Test puts his versatility on full display. The LP contains 11 strong tracks, perfectly sequenced for optimal dancefloor mayhem or personal enjoyment in solitude. "Tripping in the 16th" starts the party rolling on a groovy French tech-house tip; "Back it Up" turns up the bass drum and blasts out a dark Detroit-Berlin dub-techno banger; and "I'm Going There One Day" takes its cue from electro-jazzists like Herbie Hancock or funky crossover modernists such as Carl Craig and Laurent Garnier. It just gets better and richer as it rolls along, offering a warm, deep, and sexy thrill ride from intro to outro, a complete soul-stirring package.
Ellen Allien Dust: 7.0
Marcel Dettmann Dettmann: 7.0
Martin Buttrich Crash Test: 9.0